Facebook’s highly-publicized news that it will partner with French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications to create a system of internet deployment across Africa via satellite turns the spotlight on web-driven progress on the continent. The social network company has made no secret of its plans to get Africa fully online as fast as possible, with projects reaching back several years to expand connectivity in what many tech experts see is the web’s next frontier. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular struggles to establish any sort of connectivity as fixed networks, requiring ground-laid fiber, are difficult to implement, and various other regions across the continent have obstacles to overcome such as cable theft and resource access. The satellite project aims to deploy in the second half of 2016, and will use Eutelsat’s AMOS-6 geostationary satellite to beam connectivity to more than 14 countries. Facebook has also been vocal about using satellites to solve these connectivity issues in Africa; Chris Daniels, vice president of of Internet.org, the company’s web-delivering initiative, said: “Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.”
Yet, Facebook’s project is somewhat macrocosmic, one of a number of projects already bent on elevating Africa’s internet presence. The other necessary ingredient — in a microcosmic sense — is making sure students know what to do with the internet when they finally have access to it.
Notably, SAP, a multinational enterprise software company, launched Africa Code Week starting October 1; a ten-day long initiative in more than 17 African countries “that aims to spread digital literacy to 20,000 young people across the continent,” according to SAP. The company will offer online sessions and hundreds of free coding workshops for people aged 8 to 24 and will span countries including Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda.
SAP does not work alone; Africa Code Week is supported by governments, educational organizations, NGOs, and software companies including Simplon.co, AMPION, the Galway Education Centre, the Cape Town Science Centre, the King Baudouin Foundation, and even Google, which joined as a strategic partner. Indeed, the Irish Times reports that pilot programs in Egypt and South Africa have already seen great success, and smaller groups are targeting certain communities and students to train them with specific digital skills.
Non-profit Code4CT, based in South Africa, is hosting various workshops and training sessions predominantly focusing on WordPress and educating girls throughout Africa Code Week, although the group performs continual work for high school girls outside of SAP’s project. The group trains students in web development and design principles, thus preparing girls with the technical know-how to be better equipped for obtaining jobs in the digital era.
Additionally in South Africa, the Digital Academy announced last week that it will be providing free internships for self-taught coders — an initiative aimed at bringing students from poorer areas into work environments where they not only learn more about computer programming, but make connections in order to establish working relationships in digital businesses.
While, of course, all of this work isn’t possible without actual internet access — and that is where Facebook and Eutelsat come in — it’s important to keep an eye out for the smaller projects that reach individuals and communities to prepare the next generation of digital workers in Africa’s burgeoning internet markets.